Category Archives: Bangladesh

The Bangladesh factory collapse and the drive for profit

27 April 2013
More than 300 people are dead, mainly garment workers, and many more are injured following the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh this week. The tragedy is one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, but it will not be the last, as global corporations constantly drive for greater profits through the exploitation of sweatshop labour.
The Rana Plaza complex was typical of the multi-level buildings that have been thrown up by the massive expansion of Bangladesh’s clothing industry—now second only to China—with scant regard for the country’s limited safety and building codes. It housed five garment factories, employing thousands of workers, as well as a maze of shops. The owner, a local politician connected to the ruling Awami League, only had permission to erect a five-storey building, but was not stopped from adding three more floors.
There had been a temporary evacuation on Tuesday, when workers noticed large cracks in the building. But the owner, Sohel Rana, declared that the site was safe, despite warnings to the contrary. Factory managers, determined to meet production schedules, forced employees back to work. The building collapsed suddenly on Wednesday morning and, more than three days later, rescuers continue to extract bodies from the unstable tangle of debris.
As with previous disasters, the Bangladeshi government, business groups and global clothing corporations that profit from the country’s cheap labour quickly swung into operation to limit the political and economic fallout.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina put the rescue operation on a “war footing” and dispatched troops and police, including units of the notorious Rapid Action Battalion—in order to suppress the anger of workers. Hundreds of thousands of garment workers took to the streets of Dhaka and nearby industrial areas on Thursday and Friday.
The prime minister blamed the building owner for the collapse, declaring that he would be punished. At the same time, Hasina made clear that nothing would be done to prevent similar catastrophes. She acknowledged that 90 percent of the country’s buildings were not constructed to meet the official building code, but brushed the issue aside, declaring: “Shall we have to demolish all the buildings right now?”
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) cancelled the membership of the companies operating in Rana Plaza and called for those responsible for the collapse to be prosecuted. Like the government, however, employer groups know only too well that unsafe conditions are rampant throughout the industry.
Last November, 112 workers died in the country’s worst factory fire, at Tazreen garments in the Ashulia industrial zone. Supervisors ordered employees back to work after the fire alarm sounded, leaving workers trapped in the upper floors. Some 700 workers have been killed in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2005. Garment factory collapses in 2005 and 2010 claimed another 79 lives.
The overriding concern of the government and employers is to ensure that the country’s thousands of garment factories, which account for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, continue operation as usual. They are acutely aware that any improvement in wages (on average $US37 a month), or to the appalling conditions confronting millions of garment workers, could undermine the country’s competitiveness.
The global retail giants have gone into well-practised damage control—a few crocodile tears, and, where possible, denials of any involvement, or current involvement, with the particular suppliers in the Rana Plaza complex, followed by empty promises to improve conditions in the future. Labels for the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, the Spanish chain El Corte Ingles and PC Penney have been found in the rubble. Web sites for the factories in the building indicate that they also supplied Germany’s Kik, Belgium’s C&A, Benetton UK, Spain’s Mango, Canada’s Trimark and Premark in Ireland, to name a few.
These companies’ expressions of “shock” at the disaster are particularly cynical. All these corporations know very well the sweatshop conditions that are required to produce garments at the prices they demand. They operate through a complex system of middlemen and subcontractors to distance themselves from the actual production processes. Many have a system of factory audits, not to improve safety and conditions, but to provide a face-saving façade to protect their corporate images and brand names.
In the wake of the tragedy, governments, the media, trade unions and various NGOs declare, in one way or another, that something must be done and promote the illusion that the global corporations and Bangladeshi government can be pressured to improve safety and living standards for garment workers. The reality is the government will do nothing to jeopardise exports or profits. Amid the deepening breakdown of global capitalism, safety standards will worsen, not improve.
The same processes are taking place internationally. Last September, nearly 300 workers were killed in the world’s worst factory fire when Ali Enterprises in the Pakistani city of Karachi was engulfed in flames. In China, thousands of workers are killed every year in blasts and cave-ins in the country’s notoriously unsafe mines—late last month, two explosions in the Babao coal mine killed 34. Another 83 died in a landslide at a copper mine in Tibet.
The health, well-being and lives of workers are constantly sacrificed to the relentless drive for profit, not only in the sweatshops of Asia, Africa and Latin America, but in the advanced capitalist countries. Just last week, a fertiliser plant in Texas exploded, killing 14 people and injuring another 200. In April 2011, 11 workers died in an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in Gulf of Mexico that resulted in the largest environmental disaster in US history.
These tragedies are crimes that are ultimately rooted in the profit system itself. Globalised production, which has the potential to provide everyone on the planet with a decent standard of living, is leading under capitalism to enormous profits for the wealthy few and the deepening immiseration of working people around the world.
The only solution lies in a unified struggle of the international working class to abolish this outmoded and reactionary social order and establish a rationally-planned world socialist economy to meet the pressing social needs of humanity as a whole.
K. Ratnayake

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Dozens shot in Bangladesh protests against death sentence for Islamic leader

By Marlon Fernando and K. Ratnayake 
4 March 2013
As of yesterday, at least 62 persons were dead after a crackdown by security forces on protests led by the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) party against the death sentence issued by Bangladesh’s International Crime Tribunal (ICT) against JeI Vice-Pesident Delwar Hossain Sayedee. Several people also died in attacks by JeI activists.
Sayedee, an opposition parliamentarian whose organization is allied to the main bourgeois opposition party, the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP), was sentenced on February 28.
These tribunals have been reconstituted by the ruling Awami League (AL) to prosecute war crimes charges arising from the 1971 mass uprisings in Bangladesh against Islamist officials.
The AL government of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina deployed tens of thousands of police, border guards, and military forces throughout the country, including in the capital, Dhaka. The government also banned public assemblies. After the JeI called a two-day protest strike yesterday, the military was mobilized in the country’s northern districts as well. Protestors clashed with police, attacked ruling party offices, and set fire to vehicles.
Over 98,000 JeI leaders and activists “have been sued in 15 districts in connection with Thursday’s [February 28] violence”, The New Nationreported.
The JeI is a reactionary fundamentalist outfit, which is notorious for its violence against political opponents and its record of participating in war crimes and religious provocations. Discredited in the population, it won only 3 seats in parliament in the last general election in 2009. However, the Hasina government is using the war crime tribunals and provocations to divert mass opposition against its rule and strengthen its hand against the working class.
Sayedee, 73, was the third person tried by the ICT. On January 21, the tribunal imposed capital punishment on a former JeI leader, Abul Kalam Azad, in absentia. On February 5 JeI Assistant General Secretary Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Sayedee was indicted on charges of murder, rape and torture, and forcible religious conversion of Hindus. He allegedly supported the Pakistani army as a member of its paramilitary Razakar force. A three-member panel imposed the verdict, which his defense lawyers refused to accept.
Seven more verdicts are due. They include JeI leader Motiur Rahman Nizami and Ghulam Azam, the party chief in 1971. Two leaders of the opposition right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also face similar charges.
The government claims the charges are related to the war crimes committed by the JeI during the mass uprising demanding greater autonomy for East Pakistan, what later became Bangladesh, in 1971.
Pakistani forces unleashed bloody repression on the insurgent masses. Bangladesh maintains that 2-3 million were killed, while other estimates put the number between 300,000 and 500,000. Women were raped, properties destroyed, and over 10 million fled to India as refugees. Fearing mass movement would spill across the border, New Delhi intervened militarily, defeating Pakistan and supporting the creation of Bangladesh.
Islamic fundamentalist groups including JeI opposed independence from Pakistan and backed the crimes of the military. The ICT was first established in 1973, by then-Bangladeshi President and AL leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Mujibur was ousted from power and killed in a coup in 1975, and the military ruled Bangladesh until 1990. The military was forced to allow a return to civilian rule amid mass struggles that developed against it.
When Hasina’s party came to power in the 2008 elections, amid a sharp political and economic crisis, it declared it would investigate war crimes. It reconstituted the ICT in 2010.
The war crimes probe, nearly 40 years since creation of Bangladesh, has nothing to do with concern for war crimes and democratic rights. This tribunal itself is a travesty of democratic rights, in which politically-manipulated courts issue expedited verdicts up to and including capital punishment.
Hasina’s discredited government, which faces a national election later this year, is seeking to divert mass disaffection through a patriotic campaign. At the same time, her government wants to maintain the abject poverty of workers and rural and urban poor to attract international investments into Bangladesh. Facing US and EU economic meltdown, the country’s garment exports—its life-line of export income—has started to drop.
The government has been shaken by mass strikes and protests in the textile industry, including after last year’s deadly factory fire. (See: “Worst factory fire in Bangladeshi history”)
Protests that started on February 5, demanding death sentences for individuals found guilty of war crimes, reacted jubilantly to the Sayedee verdict. They began pressing for the reversal of the earlier verdict against Mollah and the imposition instead of capital punishment. Protests continued for several days in Shahbagh, a Dhaka locality, attracting students and youth through social media and obtaining the support of poets, artists and intellectuals.
This movement appeared to be a spontaneous expression of outrage over war atrocities. However, its main demands—for death sentences against the accused and for a ban on the JeI—would only strengthen the hand of the government and the state. Already, the Hasina government and the corporate media are using these demands for their own reactionary purposes.
Hasina reportedly told the media that ICT judges should be sympathetic to protesters’ demands. Her government has brought retroactive laws to appeal for a harsher sentence against Mollah.
Attending a funeral of a student believed to have been killed by JeI goons, Hasina hinted that her government would ban the organization. She added: “We will do to them what is necessary. They have absolutely no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh”.
The BNP, the main opposition party, which is in a front with the JeI, is seeking to exploit the government’s anti-democratic crackdown. BNP has called a strike on Tuesday after the JeI-called protest is over. At a public meeting, BNP leader Khalida Zia demanded Hasina’s resignation, pointing to her statement requesting that ICT judges be sympathetic to protesters’ demands.
The Daily Star ’s March 1 editorial, titled “Sayedee reaps as he sowed”, wrote that the tribunals and their procedures “have been successfully tried out, with the result that the processes have been strengthened for justice to be done to the victims of the crimes against humanity in the 1971 Liberation War”.
The Stalinist Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), the Socialist Part—an AL ally—and other fake left parties have backed Shahbagh protests to confuse workers and youths and are pushing the government to ban the JeI and “other religion-based political parties”. They are working to strengthen the AL and the state, under the pretext of suppressing the right.
Hasina government’s moves are a warning to the Bangladeshi working class. Unable to address any social and democratic issues, the Bangladeshi government is going further to the right.

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